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Trump Wants India To Do More To Help With His Afghanistan Strategy

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

In a prime-time address last night, President Trump called on India to play a larger role in Afghanistan. He also openly identified Pakistan as harboring the Taliban and other groups that he said posed a risk to the region and beyond. NPR's Julie McCarthy has more.

JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: India has been a key supporter of the Afghan government. Former Indian Foreign Secretary Kanwal Sibal says New Delhi has provided a little over $2 billion in assistance to Kabul in the last 15 years in many sectors.

KANWAL SIBAL: Especially in road building and more importantly in the power and power transmission sector.

MCCARTHY: The economic assistance and the many small health care and education projects India has financed have allowed it to develop a unique, bilateral relationship with Afghanistan, says Bobby Ghosh, the editor-in-chief of the Hindustan Times. But Ghosh worries that those robust relations could be undercut if India were to change its tack and, for example, follow the U.S. lead in Afghanistan as President Trump has suggested.

BOBBY GHOSH: To go along with Donald Trump's project is for India to basically switch from a bilateral position to a - to essentially going along with an American project. And India becomes part of an American project. Now that has its rewards, as well as its risks, but India will worry about the risks.

MCCARTHY: The main risk being that the next U.S. president may have different plans and decide to leave Afghanistan altogether. Kanwal Sibal says India needs the American military in Afghanistan in order for Delhi to continue its economic assistance.

SIBAL: If we are going to step up our economic presence on the ground, then they have to feel secure.

MCCARTHY: Sibal says India's central concern is to staunch the spread of the Taliban and other groups, like the IS, who have gotten a foothold in Afghanistan.

SIBAL: We've had, historically, threats to our security from Afghanistan. And the more these Islamist forces become powerful in Afghanistan, the more problem there is going to be for us.

MCCARTHY: President Trump called on India to enlarge its contribution to Afghanistan and referred to the billions of dollars in trade India has made with the U.S. Sibal insists the issues are not linked and said it was an unfortunate way to enlist the Indian's help.

SIBAL: And the suggestion here that we have some kind of a political obligation that since we trade with the United States and make money, that part of the money should be spent on development in Afghanistan, I think this is an unfortunate line that he has taken.

MCCARTHY: And, Sibal says, unnecessarily muddies the Afghanistan issue. Julie McCarthy, NPR News, New Delhi.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRASANNA'S "8TH AVENUE AND EAST MADA STREET") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.